Political Tensions Rise As Croatia Allegedly Breaks the Dublin III Refugee Regulation


Drago Župarić-Iljić

About Drago Župarić-Iljić

Dr Drago Župarić-Iljić is a sociologist, working as a research associate at the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies in Zagreb. His research within the interdisciplinary fields of forced migration, asylum, ethnicity and environmental studies focuses on various structural causes and drivers of migration, mobility and post-migration phenomena, with a special concern on the CEE region. He edited the volume on a topic of development of asylum protection systems in Croatia and the West Balkan.

In late July 2017, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Croatia had broken the Dublin III Regulation during mass-arrivals of refugees and forced migrants in 2015/2016. The rule was supposedly broken by allowing the refugees to cross over Croatian territory. This lead to the refugees ‘irregularly’ travelling further to Slovenia and Austria without imposing legal mechanisms of interception and eventual examinations of the possible claims for international protection (asylum).

However, the Court’s decision has a certain time constraint, limiting the responsibility of ‘the first EU entry-point state’ up to twelve months from the date of the unlawful irregular migrant’s border. Therefore, it is only possible to forcibly return those irregular migrants who might have later become protection seekers whose request for return was filed by the member state within that period crossing. There is the exception, however, of returning them to Greece from 2011 onwards.

We still cannot perceive what implications this decision will have in domain of national and regional politics, if any. The question is could this decision result in diplomatic and political tensions over the issue of higher numbers of forced returns of asylum seekers from the other EU member states to Croatia, like the practice which is now, by this Court’s decision, overtly legitimised.

Retrospectively, this puzzle was set in summer of 2015 by Angela Merkel’s call for more solidarity and humane solutions for the growing displacement movements of Syrian refugees. It is known that Germany welcomed politics of open doors, which meant temporarily suspending  the Dublin system. This enabled the situation of semi-legalised mass-arrivals and transfers of people from war-torn areas of Middle East over the Balkans to the core EU countries.

At that time, the Croatian government initially took a humanitarian stance by employing a strategy of state-controlled, organised, fast transit of people, adjusted and coordinated together with Serbian and Slovenian governments. More than 660,000 trespassed the country, while only some two hundred of them decided to lodge their claims for asylum in Croatia, before the gradual closure of the Balkan corridor in March 2016.

After the EU-Turkey agreement, further security measures, militarisation and criminalisation of the borders, plus asylum and mobility issues took place. Protecting the EU borders once again became more important than enabling refugees the access to territory and to status determination procedure.

In 2016, Austria sent more than two thousand claims for returns via Dublin to the Croatian Ministry of Interior. In 2016 and the first half of 2017, Croatia has accepted around eight hundred people, more than half of which are from Austria, Switzerland, Germany and other Western European countries. Most of the forced returnees were Afghani, Syrian and Iraqi nationals.

Being one of the EU ‘non-Schengen’ countries with very low protection recognition rates (around three hundred granted out of eight thousand applicants since 2004), less integration prospects and a lack of immigrants networks, Croatia still seems not to be attractive for refugees.. Many refugees are accommodated in two reception centres hosting a maximum of seven hundred people.

Supplementary integration activities are undertaken by few humanitarian and faith-based organisations. Even though those granted with protection could rely on state-paid apartments for two years and welfare benefits, the main problems remain to be the non-existence of systemic state-executed integration assistance. That being, most notably, the lack of language learning courses and employment opportunities. Moreover, recent public opinion polls indicate that former ‘Eastern bloc’ and Balkan countries are among the least-welcoming receptive countries for migrants.

Due to these circumstances, the majority of asylum seekers, as well as many asylum grantees, after a few months of staying in Croatia still opt for a chance to move further West. Croatia also accepted a quota of 1,640 people who would eventually be transferred over relocation and resettlement mechanisms. However, less than a hundred of them are relocated from Italy and Greece, proving that EU responsibility sharing and solidarity mechanisms are largely ineffective.

In this setting, the preconditions for forcible returns of rejected asylum seekers and their actual stay in Croatia are by far disputable. Besides, some civil society and refugee-rights organisations reported on violent interceptions, push-backs and expulsions of migrants at the Croatian-Serbian border, arguing that violations of human rights are regularly taking place after the closing of the Balkan corridor. Civil actors also warned about the sudden increase in negative decisions on asylum applications in Croatia. In the period from January to July 2017, there were many examples of refusals of applications for international protection, because applicants were classified as ‘security obstacles’ to Croatian state and/or society.

Decisions on a so-called ‘security obstacle’ are done by arbitrary assessments of the national Security and Intelligence Agency, which then serve as a legal ground to the Ministry of Interior’s rejections of applicants. It remains vague as to why all of those classified as security threats are some sixty persons who have been returned to Croatia since September 2016 via Dublin, and have since applied for international protection. Among them, there are children, disabled persons and single mothers.

Thus, humanitarian actors were advocating lawful and transparent treatment of asylum seekers, stressing this practice has led to a series of irregularities and arbitrariness resulting in violations of human and refugee rights. Most of the rejected applicants have submitted an administrative complaint to the Administrative Court, challenging these classified, secretive and arbitrary, undisclosed decisions.

Long periods of uncertainty and waiting followed by rejections could impact the applicants’ mental health and well-being, resulting in serious psycho-social problems related to existential stress and trauma. After living abroad in different administrative limbos and in various integration systems, they hope for the betterment of their legal statuses and life prospects.

Unfortunately, in the aforementioned decision, the Court missed the opportunity to dwell on the inadequacy of the Dublin system and the burden which it puts on states at the EU and Schengen external borders in regards to reception and protection prospects. Neither had it followed the argument of Advocate General Sharpston, which emphasised how the responsibility for applications and enabling the international protection should be taken and determined by those countries where the asylum seekers lodged their applications. In brief, the legal mechanisms of the EU have not been designed to cover such exceptional situations as the mass-arrivals of refugees and the probable humanitarian crises that could unfold.

However, the ‘Temporary Protection Directive’ that might had applied here was never called upon. Nowadays, refugees themselves, as well as countries on the edge of the EU asylum, border and migration system such as Croatia, have to pay a debt to these ineffective, non-solidary and unfair policies. They do so by balancing between personal agencies of how to move on or (not to) move back, versus national strategies on how to stay the least attractive to refugees. In addition, the demanding policies from ‘the EU core’ on how to prevent further ‘asylum shopping’ and/or ‘asylum orbiting’ cases is also causing problems.


The views expressed in this opinion editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Emerging Europe’s editorial policy.


Romania Surviving the Waves of Recent Political Tsunamis in Europe

Hungary’s Nationalist Assault on Free Enquiry

victor orban ceu

LGBT in CEE — A New Acceptance Is Being Born From Migration

Are There Differences Between How Tax Regulations in Poland and IAS Treat Intangible Assets?

Ex-Transition Economies’ FDI Recovery

dollar euro fdi

United or Divided? Europe in the Face of the Challenges of Tomorrow

Old Fashioned Skulduggery Overshadows the Elections in Moldova

Can Armenia Keep a Foot in Both Camps?

European union armenia russia emerging europe

The Right to Water: Who Can Change Today’s Situation?

A Positive and Modern View of Entrepreneurship

The EU’s Benign Neglect Of Eastern Europe

People Power Reminds the Government of the Rule of Law

CEE — Do We Need a Launch Pad For Our On-Site Tech Intelligence in the Silicon Valley

A New Division Between Eastern And Western Europe?

EU Visa-Liberalisation Strengthens Georgia’s Pro-Western Path

georgia emerging europe eu

Poland’s Confusing GDP Growth

When Neutrality Isn’t an Option

President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

Business Moving Forward with Cautious Optimism — Can Investors Win the Confidence Game?

Macedonia’s Controversial Coalition Government

SKOPJE MACEDONIA emerging europe

The Voice of European Business Must Be Heard Loud and Clear by Brexit Negotiators

Big Fish, Small Fish, Where to Fish? On the Eve of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Global Outsourcing Industry — the Rise of the Phoenix

Not All Quiet on the Eastern Front

Albania’s Election Apathy

tirana albania

Defending EU Values in Poland and Hungary

Eu hungary poland

Resignation in Ukraine: War, Revolution, Crisis — Some Things Never Change

Changing Perspectives and Showing That True Romania is a Vibrant Innovative Country

Are Labour Shortages Driving Economic Growth?

A Bosnian Referendum Shows Russia’s Influence in the Balkans—As Well As Its Limits

Poland’s Unicorn, Slovakia’s Flying Car and the Future of Europe

Moldova Falls Victim to Politicising

moldova emerging europe

Ukraine’s Reputation for Cheap Labour May Not Ring True in the Long-term

Partnership is the Key to CEE-Indian Business

Let’s Stop Wasting Time Redefining our Place in Europe

Poland’s Drift Away From Democracy

Hungary and Israel: the Collision of Past and Present

Budapest synagoge

Europe at Odds over OPAL and Nord Stream 2

Adam Smith’s Warning for Poland

Falling into Old Ways in 2017? Ukraine’s Struggle for Functioning Economic Institutions

After 25 Years of Restructuring, the Romanian Power Sector Is at a Crossroad

After Its Significant Rise the Georgian Economy May Now Fall

Panorama of Tbilisi, Georgia in sunset rays. Vivid, saturated, splittoned image.

The Netherlands’ Objection to the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement could be Costly to Europe

Prepare for a New Europe

The Long Tail of Global Expansion

Bulgaria Needs a Reform-Oriented Government to Take Full Advantage of its EU Membership

bulgaria emerging europe

Will the New Five-day Visa-free Regime Encourage More Visitors to Belarus?

Czech Republic Renaming Has Real Economic Costs

Poland: Is it Ready, and is it Time to Adopt the Euro?

Poland Needs to Cling to the Eurozone

zloty euro emerging europe

We, the Post-Communist Generation, Have the Skills to Rid of the Past And Create Our Own Future

Europe Needs To Be More Proactive In Embracing Armenia

Is there any prospect of ‘Polexit’?

poland european union polexit

Outsourcing in Germany: Stop Talking at and Start Talking to

International Women’s Day — Let’s Take Action And Then Celebrate

Czech Own Currency Insures Against Euro Losses

Euro Czech republic emerging europe

Belarus 2020: Turning the Vicious Circle Into an Upward Spiral

Polish Tax Laws — Fighting a Winning Battle Against Tax Evaders

The Competitive Edge in Central and Eastern Europe

SOFIA BULGARIA - MAY 5: View of the Ivan Vazov National Theatre in Sofia on May 5 2016. Sofia is the largest city and capital of Bulgaria.

The Sharing Economy Could Bring New Business Models to CEE

CEE-Benefits and Disadvantages of Joining the Eurozone

forint zloty euro

Azerbaijan: The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Nothing


History as Destiny? Institutional Erosion in Ukraine and Poland

2018 Elections — Vital Decisions for Hungary’s Future

Victor Orban energing europe

Swimpassing Dniester Without Prejudice To Democracy

Parliament of the republic of moldova in chisinau, national flag, stefan cel mare street, spring time with blue sky

E-lifestyle and Cyber Security: Some Views From Estonia

Cyber Security Protection Firewall Interface Concept

Central and Eastern European Consumers Are Joining the Global Trends for Change

EU-CEE Is Still Growing at a Healthy Rate

Prague emerging europe

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Moves from Frozen to Kinetic


Emphasising the Incongruence Between the V4 Countries

Macron emerging europe

Fiscal Policy Predictability in CEE — It’s Time for Change

Will a Two-speed European Union Side-line the Visegrad Four?

Brexit: Let’s Learn the Lesson and Hope a Better Europe Will Arise

Why Hungary’s New NGO Law Is Harmful for Business

Budapest, Hungary. Aerial view of the old city Budapest, Hungary with river and Parliament Building with cloudy blue sky

Examining How a Strong Swiss Franc Could Single-Handedly Topple Poland’s Economy

European Volatility Makes Economic Development Slower for Ukraine

Good Match But Unlikely Marriage

Could the West At Least Help Ukraine To Insure FDI Against Political Risks?

Poland’s Capital Saturation Lower Than the Czech Republic’s

deloitte fdi poland

PiS Uses Media Control to Bring Poland to Heel

Jaroslaw kaczynski pis emerging europe

How Will Poland Approach the Brexit Negotiations?

Global Expansion in the Digital Age

Where’s My Cheese? – The GREAT British Food Tour 2014

Cheese Shop

Stuck in Neutral: Georgia’s Constitutional Reforms

Tbilisi Parliament Georgia

China: A Giant That Is Hard to Crack

Measuring Growth of Societies with GDP Alone Shows an Incomplete Picture

Serbia’s New PM Is Cut From a Familiar Cloth

Serbian flag emerging europe

January Kicks Off an Exciting Year for Emerging Europe

Finalising the DCFTA is Expected to Bring Multiple Benefits to Ukraine

Breaking With Imitations of the Past

The GREAT London Food Scene

Bakery in London

How strong is V4?

Viktor Orban

The Capital Markets Union: a New Beginning in the European Financial Sector?

How Will Trump’s Visit Affect Polish Politics?

Donald trump

The CEE Region Is Making Advances in Prioritising Waste-to-Energy Projects

The Morawiecki Plan Promises a Brighter Future for Poland

Impact of Brexit on EU-CEE Not Overstated

theresa may brexit

The EU’s Choice: Fundamental Reform Or Disintegration

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *